When you hear the word calligraphy, what comes to mind? You might think of traditional, fancy scripts used for weddings or historical documents. Or you might associate calligraphy with cursive. But you may not realize just how many tools and styles there are! When creating lettering projects, you’re only limited by your creativity and practice. And since calligraphy has changed a lot over the years, it might encompass more than you think.
Today, we use the word calligraphy to talk about a wide range of decorative lettering styles, from faux calligraphy to pointed pen to digital lettering.
Whether you’re new to lettering or you’re ready to take the next step in your journey, it’s helpful to know exactly what each style looks like and what tools you’ll need so you can get started on the right foot. We’ll start by comparing the tools used to create calligraphy, then we’ll talk about the lettering styles that can be created.
Take a look at our visual guide at the bottom of this post and keep reading for details on the tools and styles that will help you get the outcome you’re looking for.
Part 1: Calligraphy Tools
There are different types of calligraphy styles that use specific tools, such as brush calligraphy which is created with a paintbrush or a flexible marker-like pen, and pointed pen calligraphy, which is when a steel nib is dipped into ink. Alternatively, you can use any pen or pencil that has a consistent weight to create faux calligraphy.
Take some time to research what you need before getting started so you’ll have everything at your fingertips.
Faux calligraphy involves drawing the letters to make them look like calligraphy without needing any fancy pens or pencils. It’s a great way to use the pens that you already have, such as highlighters, fineliners, ballpoint pens, markers, or colored pencils. You’ll just need a writing tool that creates a consistent weight, meaning that no matter how hard you press down on it, the line it creates stays the same with the same width. It’s a really good way to learn some of the initial shapes that create the letters.
Our free course on how to get started with faux calligraphy is the most popular way our students get started with calligraphy. Over 7,000 people have gone through the course and you can, too!
Brush lettering is increasingly popular, and it requires special pens with a flexible tip that come in a range of pen tip thicknesses (you can see our comparison guide here), with different pens having a different effect on the project outcome. You will need high-quality paper to avoid bleeding and to keep the strokes smooth.
Pointed pen calligraphy uses special pointy nibs and ink to write with, creating an elegant, almost old fashioned look. We usually don’t recommend this style of calligraphy for beginners of the art because you have to think about how to form the letters and control the ink at the same time (it’s easier if you learn the letters first in faux calligraphy). Finished projects are beautiful and elegant and you’ll see this lettering on things like wedding invitations and place cards. Just make sure to give the ink plenty of time to dry to avoid smudging.
Broad Edge Pens
Broad edge pens give your calligraphy and hand lettering projects a nice contrast, with both thin and very thick lines. The width of each line is dependent on the direction of the nib compared to the direction of the stroke. These pens are NOT flexible like brush pens and pointed pens, so you don’t have to apply pressure, you just have to keep the nib angle consistent. You can find broad edge pens that are like markers or broad edge nibs that are dipped into ink.
Certain calligraphy scripts use broad edge pens including Italic and Gothic. Fun fact: Italic was the first calligraphy style we learned at age 11! But we don’t currently teach any broad-edge lessons.
Digital Pens (iPad)
Procreate is, by far, the most popular app for digital lettering. We’ve been using it for years and love the flexibility it gives us in a variety of projects. One of our favorite things about Procreate is that it allows us to create different iterations of the same project–without using up paper or ink. Plus, it’s so convenient to simply pack up our iPad and pen when traveling, instead of having to decide which pens to bring along. They’re all right there in the iPad!
Calligraphy Tools: Side by Side Comparison
|Monoline Pen||- Use any pen for faux calligraphy|
- Ability to write on any surface
- The artist determines the width of the strokes; scale the words to fit any size
- Creating consistent stroke widths requires attention to detail
|Brush Pen||- Great color variety|
- No mess, easy clean-up
- Works well on paper goods: envelopes, place cards, and framed paper signs
|- Will not work on most non-paper surfaces
- High quality brush pens can get pricey
|Pointed Pen||- Write on light & dark colored paper, and other non-paper surfaces|
- Achieve a professional and elegant look
- You can mix custom ink colors
|- Not suitable for large-scale lettering
- Ink needs time to dry completely, can be messy
|Broad Edge Pen||- Available as both marker-like pens and metal nibs that are dipped in ink||- Only used for certain hands like Italic and Gothic|
|Digital Pen||- We wrote a whole blog post about the benefits of digital lettering!||- An iPad and Apple Pencil can be a large investment|
Part 2: Lettering Styles
After you learn the basic way to write calligraphy letters, the fun part is adding style. Whether you’re adding embellishments like flourishes, or switching up your letterforms to create a new look, any of the tools above (brush pens, pointed pens, etc.) can be used when creating different styles with your lettering.
Bounce lettering is a form of hand lettering where the letters include embellishments that make it appear as if the letters are bouncing from one to the next–or even off the page! It looks flowy and effortless, but if you’ve ever tried it, it’s harder than it looks. You’ll need to know some mechanics of hand lettering before having a little fun with this style.
You get to have some fun with flourishing lettering! It’s another form of embellishing that allows you to turn lettering projects into fancy and decorative works of art. We have a free course to get you started.
Here are some tips if you want to use flourishing in your lettering:
Sans-Serif Capital Letters
There’s a lot you can do with capital letters to make them a little more fun, which is why we created a free course to show you! Whether you’re using serif or sans serif, varying proportions or changing up the straight and diagonal lines, your capital letters don’t have to look like your traditional letter chart from first grade.
Once you’re really comfortable with the fundamentals of hand lettering, you can start to add your own letter variations to make it your own. This allows you to create your own word styles and even develop your very own font that you can use again and again.
Download the Guide